Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Return" Chapter One; Or, Yes, I really am writing a novel

I've been busy lately, working on a novel. Now that I'm on the third draft, I thought I'd share a little bit of what I've been doing. "Return" is a romantic fantasy (yes, it's a romance novel, but it might break a few rules along the way) that takes place in two time-streams. And that's all you need to know for now. Here is chapter one, at least as it stands now.


"Return", Chapter 1

When Annie didn't find John in their usual meeting place, she began to panic. He was always here before her. Where could he be?

What if someone had discovered their relationship and had already come for him?

He was never late. Never.

Should she go look for him? Return to her rooms? What if someone had followed her here from her father's rooms? The thoughts came close on one another, and she was paralyzed by them, not sure what to do.

She was still trying to figure out what she should do when John turned the corner into the little alcove in the gardens that had become their refuge. No one ever came out this far, especially at night. She had never even thought to worry about being seen, being followed. But now?

Now the stakes had changed.

John swept her into his arms, held her close.

"I'm sorry I'm late, my love," he said. "I had to deliver a report to the captain of the guard, only I had to wait for the patrol to get back. They were late, and then I couldn't find the captain, and I couldn't leave until found him."

John kissed Annie deeply and then pulled back to look into her eyes.

"You're trembling, love. What's wrong? Are you angry at me? I'm sorry."

Annie shook her head and burst into tears. She couldn't get the words she needed to say but dreaded, to come. She buried her face in his chest.

He bent to whisper in her ear, "Is it really that bad? It'll be alright. You'll see." His lips and beard tickled her ear. She loved that, it always made her laugh, and when she only sobbed harder, John knew that whatever had upset her was serious. He folded her in his arms and held her as tightly as he could.

Annie closed her eyes and tried to memorize the feeling of his arms around her. It could be the last time, and she wanted to be able to remember.

He whispered again, "Whatever is wrong, I will fix it. And I will beat whoever has upset you so much."

It took several minutes for Annie to be able to say the words.

"I've been ordered to marry Andrew. The wedding is tomorrow." She took a deep breath, tried to steady her voice.

"I thought we still had time, you and I,” Annie whispered.

"No," John said. "God damn it. No."

Then the words began to tumble out of Annie. "Please, John. Can we leave? We must leave. Tonight. I can't marry him. I love you."

"Of course, my love," John said. "Of course, we'll go."

"Thank you," Annie said. "I was so afraid you would say no." But then she paused, shook her head. "No. I can't ask you to do this. It is too dangerous for you. Forget I asked. Forget about me and find someone who is free to love you. Be happy. And forgive me for putting you in danger. But you must go. If they even suspect..."

She couldn't continue. She still clung to him, belying her words.

"No," John said. "How could I ever be happy without you?" His voice dropped. "I will go if you wish. I only want you to be happy, and I'll do whatever you want. But my safety doesn't matter. I want to be with you. I will only go if you tell me you don't love me."

Annie sighed. "I can't say that. You know I love you. But if we go and are caught, the only thing that will happen to me is that I'll be dragged back here and married off to Andrew. But you...even if Grandfather spares you, Andrew will hunt you down and kill you for daring to touch his property."

"If that happens, if you are taken from me, I won't care if he kills me. Without you, I have nothing to live for." John willed the tears in his eyes away, but they wouldn't go.

The two of them stood for a moment longer, entwined in each other's arms and then he gently let her go.

"Stay here. I was afraid this day would come, and I have made plans. I just need to put them in motion and I'll be back and we can go."

Annie put her arms around him again. "Don't go. Don't leave me alone. I'm afraid that if you go, I won't see you again." She put a hand against his bearded cheek.

John put his hand over hers, turned his head and kissed her palm once, twice.

"I promise," he said, "I'll only be gone a few minutes. I'll be back. We'll soon be away from here and safe."

John kissed Annie again and was gone. She shrunk back into the shadows of the trees, in a dark corner defined by overgrown hedges. She prayed to a God she did not believe in that she hadn't been followed, that John would be safe and return to her. She kept having to remind herself to breathe.

It seemed like it took him forever, but John finally returned. He was carrying a hooded cloak over his arm. He settled the cloak on her shoulders and pulled the hood up over her head, hiding her face in it's shadows. He was just an anonymous soldier, but she was a granddaughter to the king, and would be recognized.

"Walk with me," John said after he had kissed her again. "We will leave the garden, walk one street over. I have arranged passage for us in a delivery cart that will get us past the town gates."

"But it will be searched," Annie said. "All the carts leaving the town are. And we will be found, and that will be the end."

John shook his head. "This cart will not be searched. I've seen to that. Come on, we have to hurry."

And they did hurry, over the garden paths, down an alley, and around a corner to where the cart, already hitched to two horses and being loaded, was backed into an alcove between two buildings. The laborers acted as if they didn't notice that John had helped Annie into the bed of the cart and then hopped up himself. They just continued loading goods in around where Anne and John had seated themselves, enclosing them in a recess in the merchandise that had already been loaded. It was completely dark once they were surrounded by the boxes and sacks.

John put his arm around Annie and she lay her head on his shoulder. He whispered, "Now we must be very quiet for a while."

The cart turned several times as the horses pulled it toward the town gate. When it came to a stop, John heard Annie take a sharp breath. He tightened his arm around her but did not say anything. The cart started and then stopped several more times in quick succession. Finally, it started up again and did not stop. Only after it had been moving steadily for nearly half an hour did John feel safe to whisper in Annie's ear, "Are you all right?"

Annie was too afraid to speak, but she nodded her head against John's shoulder.

"We will ride for about another hour," John whispered. "This cart is delivering merchandise to an inn, where there are horses waiting for us to take us on to my family's homestead. We'll be able to rest there before we go on. We should try to sleep a little now. Once we get on the horses, it will be a long night's ride."

Annie closed her eyes and moved closer to John, leaning her head on his shoulder. She was sure she wouldn't be able to sleep, but within just a few minutes she was dreaming about a house along a stream where she and John would happily grow old together.

Copyright, Elaine Frei, 2014

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